Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: the NFL did something stupid.
In what should come as a shock to absolutely nobody, players all across the league are beginning to test positive for the Coronavirus. It started with a few members of the Titans, then more players on the Titans, and now Cam Newton, Stephon Gilmore, and Bill Murray have all tested positive for the Patriots. A player on the Raiders is also reported to have tested positive, and it’s just a matter of time before more players are shut down as well.
Who would have thought that, during a global pandemic where a highly contagious virus transmitted through close contact is challenging countries worldwide, playing a game in which literally every single play ends in a massive pigpile would represent a high risk for an outbreak?
And yet, as they always seem to do, the National Football League completely botched the way they have decided to handle it.
When the league first announced that it would be a go, I was pessimistic, but hopeful. After all, we can’t just shut down indefinitely, and there are definitely some very important, meaningful discussions to be had around balancing safety and the economy, the impact on employment versus straining the medical system, and how to regain some semblance of normalcy without taking any unnecessary risks. And while there have been many disagreements and discussions about how to best go about doing all that, it has pretty much been universally agreed that the solution doesn’t involve “let’s all just plow ahead like nothing is wrong and make absolutely zero adjustments to the way we normally do things.” And yet, that’s more or less exactly what the league has decided to do.
The NFL basically had since March, well before the schedule was set, to figure all of this out. They had six months to monitor the situation, learn from the mistakes and successes that other sports leagues made, adjust accordingly, and put a number of contingency plans in place in case the pandemic was still ongoing come September. You could even make the case that they had until mid-April or early May to make any necessary adjustments.
But they did nothing. They decided to just move forward like nothing was out of the ordinary. Limited practices and a lack of preseason was a decent start, although now we’re seeing more injuries than ever as players aren’t used to the contact. Daily testing is a nice idea, but when the disease has an upwards of 14-day incubation period, it doesn’t really do much, and there’s bound to be some slip-ups. The league says that they have rigorous protocols for players and coaches in place, but nobody has any idea what those protocols are. The NFL basically decided not to err on the side of caution in any capacity and did just enough to make it seem like they cared.
And it’s not like implementing some additional contingency plans would have been all that hard to execute or lose the league any of that precious money that drives every single decision they make. How hard would it have been to have baked two extra league-wide bye weeks, maybe Week 5 and Week 13, into the schedule during which any makeup games could be played? With perhaps one extra bye week after the season ended just to be safe? Perhaps schedule the 2020 Super Bowl for Presidents’ Day weekend instead?
Odds are that if enough games get postponed that they can’t all be made up throughout the course of three extra weeks, there would be a league-wide shutdown anyway... so the worst case scenario in that situation is that all of your players are healthy and get extra time to rest, recover, and spend time with their families, and the NFL is stuck with a few extra weeks that they can use to try and restore their extremely tarnished image. Who here would be mad at the league if they didn’t get to watch any games this week because, back in April, the NFL had put this bye week in place for the entire league in order be responsible and stem any outbreaks? Of course there would have been some folks out there that would have accused the NFL of overreacting, but those folks are out there doing the same thing right now anyway, so what’s the difference?
Even better, the league could have used the bye weeks, had they not in fact needed to schedule makeup games, to do some good. I would have gladly written Fan Notes from the Covid Bye Week Retired Veteran Flag Football Game for Charity and not thought twice about it. I would have loved to watch the Super Bowl on the Sunday night of Presidents’ Day weekend; the Monday after the Super Bowl is a wash anyway, it would be great to have that day off. You could argue that a few extra weeks off every season is beneficial to the players, in every possible way, and would likely translate into a better on-field product.
And yet, none of that happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if none of it was even discussed. And it’s infuriating.
You’ll notice here that, much like the NFL, I have yet to even give a single thought to the overall wellbeing and safety of the players. All I’ve done is suggest ways for the league to play a full season and keep making money. But how many players are new parents, or new parents-to-be with pregnant, immunocompromised partners at home? How many care for elderly parents? How many coaches and team personnel are coming in every day and putting themselves in harm’s way due to age or underlying issues? How many have to think about whether they’re putting others at risk as they’re playing, perhaps distracting themselves from a sport that is perpetually one bad hit away from a career-ending injury or worse? If you’re a player in the NFL, how much faith do you have in your employer looking out for your best interests?
It just seems like all of this could have so easily been planned for, thought of, and avoided with just the smallest amount of common sense - and yet it wasn’t. And it was likely never even brought up
It’s not remotely surprising, but it’s extremely disappointing.
I’m sure there’s much more to it than I’ll ever know. I have no clue what goes on behind the scenes over on Park Avenue, nor do I know the ins and outs of NFL policy. Maybe I’m being too simplistic here and all of the above and more was talked about, but couldn’t be executed for whatever reason. To criticize without full knowledge is always going to be disingenuous. But when you have a league that never fails to make itself look like a complete jackass at every turn, that has a proven track record of botching nearly every single major decision it’s faced with, it’s very difficult to give them any kind of benefit of the doubt. At this point, I’d be amazed if the NFL season goes a full 16 games. And while much of that might ultimately be out of the league’s control, it did itself no favors in how it planned for this unprecedented season.
I’ve always said the only way the NFL will ever change is if we as fans stop watching. Now, it likely won’t be long until we don’t have any choice in that matter.